Posted 26 June 2014
This entomology research profile has been produced as part of Harper Adams University's National Insect Week celebrations, June 23-29.
By Senior Lecturer, Dr Andy Cherrill
My main areas of entomological interest are the grasshoppers (and related species of Orthoptera) and the leaf- and plant-hoppers (Auchenorrhyncha, Hemiptera).
My interest in insects began in earnest with a PhD on the field grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus, in the 1980s. This is a common species found widely across the UK in a range of dry, grassy habitats where patches of bare ground are found along with grass tussocks. It is frequently found on waste ground, in gardens and road verges.
My research on basic aspects of the species ecology, life cycle, behaviour and habitat requirements has continued over the last 25 years and underpinned my subsequent studies on the conservation of two of our rarest Orthopterans: the wart biter bushcricket (restricted to five sites in southern England) and the lesser mottled grasshopper (known from a single site on the Isle of Man).
An understanding of the ecology of the common field grasshopper was an essential starting point to identifying key aspects for the conservation of its rarer cousins.
Studying insects has proved to be a very diverse and rewarding career. Understanding insect abundance, distribution and diversity requires knowledge of their associations with plant communities and habitat management.
Although beginning my career as an entomologist, I have also been drawn into research on large-scale vegetation mapping, remote sensing of habitats, plant diversity in field margins, invasive plant species and habitat creation; with diversions into intertidal molluscs and farmland birds thrown in too.
These studies have enriched and underpinned my entomological investigations. Insects cannot be studied in isolation from their habitats, and so entomologists need to have a good grasp of British vegetation types and how their composition and management influences the insect inhabitants.
More recently, since joining Harper Adams University in early 2013, I have been rekindling my earlier interest in the leaf- and plant-hoppers (Auchenorrhyncha).
These species are generally less than 4mm in length but can be extremely numerous in grasslands; a number are important agricultural pests. Moreover, while there are only a few dozen native Orthopterans, there almost 400 leaf- and plant-hoppers in the UK.
What determines their diversity, abundance and distribution? These are fundamental questions which I am currently encouraging our Undergraduate and Masters students to explore in their research projects.